Die After Sunset is a third-person shooter with rogue-like elements and it comes to us by way of Spanish studio Playstark. With its colourful palette, a host of crates to loot and a lot of verticality, the immediate comparison is with the insanely popular Fortnite and certainly this game does have similarities, albeit mainly aesthetically, but this is a single-player experience and one that reminded us a little of Risk of Rain 2.
Upon firing up the game for the first time you’ll be put through a short tutorial which explains the basics of running, jumping and shooting. It’s standard stuff and it’ll get you ready for your first encounters with the villains of this game, the Murkors. An army of cheery looking mascot-style characters who have come to the planet to destroy it.
The general game loop across Die After Sunset’s five levels is that you have a few minutes to prepare for the boss battle. In that time you can run around completing missions and opening crates. The missions are probably the key gameplay mechanic here. Every once in a while the game will offer you a choice of two (from a larger selection) and they’ll be marked on your compass indicator at the top of the screen. When you get there you’ll then have to complete a task and you’ll be awarded a star rating out of three if you do it. A reward chest will then appear and it’ll offer you a stat upgrade (from attack power, shield capacity, max hit-points and another for light which we’ll explain shortly) as well as a couple more items linked to getting two or three stars.
That’s fine, after all it’s always nice to get loot and this game’s mix of weapons, drones, stat bonuses and gadgets was initially interesting. That’s where the Risk of Rain 2 comparison comes in. However, there are problems with the game that become apparent pretty quickly. The first is that these challenges aren’t always clear. The ones for stopping nests spawning, clearing out a gallery, stopping aliens from stealing swimwear (yes, really) and so on are pretty straightforward. However, we’ve never really been able to figure out what the ‘Stop the Crane’ mission wants us to do (beyond obviously stopping a crane somehow) and the one with the Resident Evil 5 shining mirror puzzle is just a big, faffy nightmare. These need to be explained better. However, it’s good that you get a choice each time so that you can avoid the bad events where possible.
Doing missions is pretty important as you’ll want to be well-prepared for each level’s boss battle. If you want to stay out of the missions though you can always just go searching for crates out in the world and these come in two types. Yellow crates need to be opened with balls of light that you’ll collect by shooting containers or sometimes getting them from fallen enemies. Purple crates, which tend to offer the slightly better loot, are guarded by a handful of enemies. Clear them out and you’ll get access to the crate.
If you ignore all of that you’ll likely come a cropper pretty quickly when taking on the bosses. They’re pretty unforgiving, especially for a game with presentation like this which is clearly aimed at kids, and they’re always complicated by endlessly spawning enemies. So having a mixture of upgraded weapons, drones for crowd control and some additional defense is definitely helpful.
But that all then just highlights the issues with Die After Sunset‘s rather lackluster combat and rogue-like mechanics, some of which are really badly thought out. The main issue is with the controls. The button mapping is fine but the feel of aiming is just awful. The sensitivity can, and really must, be altered to make the game playable but thanks to a lack of auto-aim, which really you do need on a joypad, trying to point your reticule in the right place is a bit of a chore (especially as your character can’t even hold a machine gun properly as seen in the screenshot below).
This also extends to character movement which just feels too fast and floaty. The double-jump ability is welcome but mostly we were just using it to correct mistakes we were making when trying to navigate the game’s higher areas.
The other issue with combat is that enemies just take a bit too long to die. There’s a light-based mechanic where enemies become stronger when they’re in shadow. It’s a cool idea but it’s implemented in a fairly non-committed way with the status of each enemy barely feeling affected. If kills in sunlight were instant and encounters in shadow were much more difficult, that’d add some real strategy but we never really felt connected to the game mechanic here at all.
Our biggest issue with games of this type though, namely rogue-ish games with a -like or -lite suffix, is when the upgrading and looting is unsatisfying and that’s definitely the case here. The joy of Risk of Rain 2 is in powering up your character with loads of fun new toys, creating a build that makes you feel like you’ve got some real power. When done right, as in the case of that game, it improves everything even if Risk of Rain 2 is otherwise nowhere near as good as the original. That shows just how important this stuff is to get right. Don’t ever feed us weak loot and expect us to want to keep playing.
In Die After Sunset everything feels weak. From the gadgets to the guns to the drones. In fact the drones seem to be basically useless. And even if something is a bit more powerful, the way enemies die in this game lacks any kind of dynamism. They just sort of freeze and then disappear out of existence over a couple of seconds. At least make them fall over so that the player knows they’re no longer a threat.
It gets weirder though. When you beat a boss, you’d be thinking that maybe it’d be nice to return to base to level up your permanent upgrades right? Well don’t do that as that’ll just end your run entirely. That’s kind of weird but, okay, whatever. But what’s odd is that if you do continue your run, you’ll start the next level without any of the weapons or gadgets you collected on the way. You’re basically starting from scratch and yet you can’t even level select at the start of a run!
Honestly, the whole thing just feels like a quick and easy port of the lead platform version, most likely PC, with very little independent playtesting. If you were testing the game you’d come back with a ton of notes about the unsatisfying combat, the weak upgrades, the glacially slow meta progression, the tedious boss fights. The first thing that happens when you start a run is a weird glitchy sound effect that’s basically twice as loud as anything else. It’s unmissable, especially if you play using a headset.
However, on the positive side, the game does pretty much hold together without any game-ruining bugs, the overall colourful design is quite nice and there’s a bit of satisfaction from beating a level too, albeit short-lived. There’s the bones of a better game here. They just need to refine the experience a bit and ask themselves, honestly, ‘is this part of the game fun?’ because too often the answer is ‘not really.’
+ Reasonably playable
+ There are some good ideas in there...
- Controls aren't great
- Very weak upgrading mechanics
- Too difficult for the target audience